Virginia Film Festival Finishes with Record 27 Sold-Out Screenings

November 09, 2011

November 9, 2011 — The 24th annual Virginia Film Festival, which concluded Sunday, made history with a record 27 sold-out screenings.

The weekend included 115 screenings in all, plus appearances by Oliver Stone, Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk, Larry Flynt, Rachael Harris, Bill T. Jones and others.  The community festival included screenings of features, documentaries and short films, as well as special events, parties, family events and outdoor projections.

The Virginia Film Festival is presented by the University of Virginia's College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Ticket sales for this year's festival brought in $89,602 and total attendance was 24,077.

The sales figure nearly equaled last year's record-setting figure of $90,158 – despite 13 fewer screenings this year – and the attendance was a slight increase over last year's figure of 23,750.

Festival director Jody Kielbasa called it "a truly extraordinary year."

"We are very happy with the numbers we are learning about from this year's festival, particularly when you consider that we are operating with fewer screenings and fewer venues, given Newcomb Hall construction," Kielbasa said. "Once again, our community has embraced and supported the festival in remarkable ways. This support was evident to us almost from the moment tickets went on sale, and became even more obvious as we started to see more and more sold-out screenings throughout the weekend.

"It was extremely gratifying throughout the weekend to hear from so many people who took the time to tell me how much they love what they called the transformation of the festival in these past three years," he added. "Hearing comments like that reminds all of us at the festival why we do what we do, and it inspires me to continue this evolution in creative ways as we look toward our 25th anniversary year and beyond."

Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, congratulated Kielbasa on the success of the festival. "He put together a remarkable lineup of films and special events – the kind of innovative and thoughtful programming that enlightens and informs as well as entertains," she said.

The College's intellectual and cultural resources played a major role in the festival, she noted, such as the program of short films by studio art professor Kevin Everson. "It is gratifying for the College to help this festival become one of Charlottesville's – and Virginia's – true cultural treasures," Woo said.

Kielbasa said the festival was helped immeasurably by its unique relationship with the University and the College.

"We cannot possibly overestimate the value the University brings us in so many ways, and are extremely proud of our relationship and connections," he said, adding his thanks to the festival's primary sponsors, The AV Company, Acura, The Virginia Film Office and Regal Entertainment.

He also recognized the festival's volunteers. "The festival could not exist without the many community members who volunteer their time and talents," he said. "Even now in my third year, I am amazed at the dedication of so many volunteers who routinely go above and beyond to help ensure the best possible experience for our patrons."

The festival on Wednesday announced the winners of its annual awards.

The Audience Favorite Award for Narrative Feature went to "The Artist," a silent film about a silent film star at the dawn of the "talkie" age that is already garnering significant Oscar buzz.

Other winners of Audience Favorite Awards, sponsored by the U.Va. Community Credit Union, were:
•    Best Narrative Short – "The Proposition" (Edward Stein)
•    Best Documentary Feature – "Elevate" (Anne Buford)
•    Best Documentary Short – "Wounded Warriors Resilience" (Jay Lavender)

 Winners of this year's Programmer's Choice Awards were:
•    Best Narrative Feature – "Days Together" (Peter Monro)
•    Best Narrative Short – "The Box Man" (Florencia Calcagno)
•    Best Documentary Feature – "Wrestling for Jesus: The Tale of T-Money" (Nathan Clarke)
•    Best Documentary Short – "Jerry" (Jeff Reynolds)

The opening-night, sold-out screening of "The Descendants" at Culbreth Theatre set the tone for the weekend. The film was just one of the sneak previews of soon-to-be-released festival-circuit favorites that packed houses around Charlottesville; others included the Tilda Swinton-led psychological thriller "We Need To Talk About Kevin," the political satire "Butter," the David Cronenberg film "A Dangerous Method" and Lars von Trier's "Melancholia."

Sold-out houses were hardly limited to major releases, however.

"What I am particularly proud of in looking at our numbers," Kielbasa said, "is not just the number of sellouts, but the diversity of kinds of films that sold out. The list includes dynamic, and important new documentaries like '!Women Art Revolution,' 'Cafeteria Man' and 'Haze'; fabulous documentaries that tell the stories of people here in our community, like 'Growing Up Cason' and 'Rothstein's First Assignment'; celebrated foreign films like 'Salt of Life' and 'La Rafle,' and many more.

"What this means to me is that we are continuing to engage our audiences across a wide spectrum of issues and topics, which is exactly what we are trying to do."

Other weekend highlights included:

• The acclaimed writer/director Oliver Stone appearing before a sold-out Culbreth Theatre audience following the 20th-anniversary screening of his celebrated and controversial "JFK," and participating in an discussion with U.Va. politics professor Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics.

• Famed Hustler publisher Larry Flynt detailing his many battles for the protection of free speech in a discussion presented by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Flynt received a standing ovation from the nearly packed house before heading to the Culbreth lobby to sign copies of his latest book for long lines of buyers.

• Saturday afternoon visitors to the Downtown Mall finding a line of two blocks or more snaking its way into The Paramount Theater for a reprise of the classic film "Badlands," followed by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz's interview of Sissy Spacek and her husband Jack Fisk, who first met on the film. The film was part of the special series, "Turner Classic Movies and the Library of Congress Celebrate the National Film Registry," which also included a free Family Day screening of "National Velvet," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and the silent film "The General."

• Another packed Paramount house following later that evening with "Albert Nobbs," an arresting drama starring Glenn Close in a role she originated on stage in 1982. Audiences stayed to hear from actress Mia Wasikowska, one of Hollywood's fast-rising stars who showcases her formidable talents in the film; director Rodrigo Garcia; and the film's producers, Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis.

• One of the most important court cases in Virginia history getting its due twice over on Friday. The documentary "The Loving Story," about the case that paved the way for legalizing interracial marriage throughout the United States, was shown to a crowd of 925 area high school students during the day, and later played to a packed house in the College's Nau Hall auditorium.

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John Kelly

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